- A Kafkaesque state: deportation and detention in South Africa
- Citizenship Studies
- Volume | Issue number
- 15 | 5
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG)
- Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)
Deportation practices are commonly described through the lens of a ‘state of exception’, a condition where government assumes extra-judicial and near absolute authority over its subjects. Yet, within the contemporary deportation regime, we find examples of state fragmentation and resistance. Individual officials take decision-making power into their own hands, and deportable populations reassert control over their movement and their lives. Hence, deportation is not a ‘bare’ form of politics, but a rich and contested realm, in which officials and deportees struggle for power and freedom. This article attempts to define and describe the unique character of this realm of politics in South Africa's particularly prolific and harsh deportation system. Drawing on a wide array of survey, interview and ethnographic material, we explore both the inner workings of South Africa's deportation bureaucracy and deportees' narrative and emotive responses to detention conditions. To make sense of this material, the article draws on the unique description of state power and authority in Franz Kafka's classic The Trial. For Kafka, the power of officials in a state of exception stems from an ability to prolong administrative procedures, while individuals seek to retain their capacity to imagine and chart a broader migration story. We show that many anomalies and informal practices in the South African deportation system can be understood as part of this Kafkesque struggle.
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